Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS (2012)
How nice to see an Aardman film again (and a stop-motion one, at that). I love the charm of the Aardman films, and this film has a beautifully realized three-dimensional look to it. The camera really makes the most of the models, swooping in and out of ornate sets. The story may be on the inconsequential side, but the voice actors are so good and the film is packed with wall-to-wall gags, and the artistry of the animation is undeniable. I could watch 9 more movies with this crew of characters. ****

BRAVE (2012)
I had my trepidation about this film, but I ultimately liked it. I have some problems with the narrative, and I think in some ways it lets down this wonderful character they've created. Merida is beautifully animated and fully realized--and voiced quite nicely by Kelly MacDonald--but I just wish the film served her better. The film is too obsessed with making her a symbol of feminist autonomy instead of just making her autonomous and telling us her story. I feel like Disney's been telling us every year since The Little Mermaid what feminism is and how important feminist characters are instead of just making movies with a lead female character and exploring those characters. They always have to stand for something. So it takes the narrative a little too long to really get to the heart of the story, which is about a daughter and a mother who don't understand each other and can't communicate each other. I think the story suffers as a result. The opening scenes are beautifully animated (though this is Pixar's most self-conscious attempt to be Miyazaki in a lot of ways). We get to know this world and the characters, but I didn't feel the tension of Merida's dilemma, which is that she doesn't want to be forced into marriage and traditional "ladylike" ways and cetera, and I didn't like the way the film handled this, coming down to three suitors who are all duds and Merida boldly brushing them off. It doesn't feel so bold to me to brush off three duds. If even one of them had been handsome and a great warrior and even a nice person, if any one of them had really been the perfect potential husband and she still rebelled against being forced into an engagement, that would have really been the statement Pixar thinks it's making with this movie. Like I said, brushing off a dud is easy. The message isn't "Make your own destiny, change your fate, forge your own path" it's "If the things your parents want for you aren't pleasing, make a scene until you get your way." I think that's a story failure. And I think the sequence with the witch is sort of lifted whole cloth from The Thief and the Cobbler, the most ripped off animated film in history. After all of that, though, I think the narrative rights itself and the scenes with mother and daughter are really stirring and emotional. The bears are especially well animated. There's a lot I liked, even loved in here, and the design and animation of the characters is beautiful. I just wish the story had been a little more challenging. But it's still the best movie Pixar's made in years. I wish they'd push themselves to innovate again. Step outside your formula. It's a good movie, but it could have been a truly great one. ***1/2

HEAD OVER HEELS (2012)
Short stop-motion film about an old married couple who has stopped communicating. I like the way the gulf between them is literalized: they both live on opposite planes, literally unable to stand side by side. That's a clever idea. And though the ending is beautiful, it doesn't make the mistake of thinking that grand gestures fix all your relationship problems. ***

ADAM AND DOG (2011)
Excellent, very emotional short animated film about man's first best friend. I love that there's no dialogue in this film; it's just a dog, at the beginning of creation, and the friendship he forges with Adam, the first man. The Adam and Eve story happens mostly offscreen; instead, we stay with the dog and watch and feel as he curiously explores his new world and chooses his moment of loyalty. It's stunning; I got caught up in the movement and the animation, but my emotions were sort of tensed the whole time. ****

FRESH GUACAMOLE (2012)
WESTERN SPAGHETTI (2008)
A pair of stop-motion films by PES, one of which is nominated for the Oscar this year. They're very short, smart and clever films that show a man cooking and each food object being replaced by other objects. PES is pretty obviously inspired by Jan Svankmajer, but his films seem more absurdist than symbolic. **** each.

PARANORMAN (2012)
If I have one complaint about this movie, it's that it's a stop-motion film that tries a little too hard to look like a CGI one. It's very slick, less puppet-y. It doesn't quite revel in its medium, but that's okay, because the story is fun, the characters are really well-realized, and the voice actors are enjoyable. It's a really fun movie about a boy, Norman, who can see the dead and has to battle a witch (a local legend). I just especially liked the characters in this one, particularly Norman's friend Neil. The characterizations are just so full and genuine, and at least one of them quite surprising. ***1/2

WRECK-IT RALPH (2012)
I really enjoyed this Disney film about a video game villain who wants to stop being the bad guy and earn some respect. Well-realized, and I loved the video game settings, particularly the Sugar Rush environment, which is just limitlessly creative. Lots of good references, and the voice work is nice, particularly John C. Reilly as the title character (perfect casting) and Alan Tudyk's crazy turn as King Candy (doing a sort of menacing Ed Wynn; I wouldn't have guessed Tudyk just listening; I thought it must be Charles Fleischer). I loved that in the end Ralph realizes that having a role in life doesn't necessarily mean that it defines your nature. This is another one of those movies that is certain that, when we're not interacting with our things, they have a complex, ordered society with rules. Someone should make a film about why it is we want the inanimate things we interact with to carry the characterizations we imbue them with. ****

FRANKENWEENIE (2012)
Tim Burton made an utterly charming, wonderful little movie/50s science fiction homage about a boy bringing his dead dog back to life. Then, in 2012, he remade it as a stop motion feature without any of the charm or wonder. It's a cute movie--the animation itself is great, and has the hand-molded look I particularly like in stop motion--but it's very slight and often not very interesting. Tim Burton used to have this reputation as being a weird outsider, but his style has become so mainstream now that movies like this seem to come out constantly and without the genuinely weird beauty they once had. Any real emotions the movie generates are from the design and animation of the dog, and the score by Danny Elfman, once again doing the real heavy lifting (and a damn sight better than he did in Dark Shadows, which I haven't seen, but I have listened to the score, and it was dull and halfhearted and not worth listening to a second time). It's pretty much everything you expect from a Tim Burton movie and nothing else, which is fine if you like Tim Burton, but boring if you fell out of love with him a decade ago. This is pretty much Corpse Bride again: slight, inconsequential, forgettable, but with one good character and a wonderful score. He really needs to get a director of Henry Selick's caliber to make his animated movies. The Nightmare Before Christmas is an enduring classic, in no small part because of a character-oriented direction. Frankenweenie suffers from being full of cute gags (that have been mostly repeated in other Burton films) and not dealing in the one thing Burton's never been able to figure out as a storyteller: human beings. **1/2

4 comments:

Roger Owen Green said...

Don't know why Adam and Dog bugged me, but it did. It LOOKED lovely, but it left me oddly cold. Whereas I LOVED Head Over Heels.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"Tim Burton made an utterly charming, wonderful little movie/50s science fiction homage about a boy bringing his dead dog back to life."

I have to refute the description of the original Frankenweenie as "50s science fiction homage." The imagry in the short, live-action Frankenweenie is very, very specific to James Whale's Frankenstein, hence the burning mill in the miniature golf course. Not the 1950s, the 1930s, early 1930s. And while Frankenstein is certainly science fiction, it really gothic horror and German expressionism. So the Frankenweenie short is a 1930s gothic horror/German expressionism homage.

SamuraiFrog said...

Good point. The new version is very 1950s, quoting Hammer horror and Godzilla movies, in addition to James Whale homages carried over from the original.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I know. I have both Frankenweenie's. The true highlight of the new Frankenweenie disc is the spectacular trailer for Oz, Th eGreat and Powerful that opens the disc, which looks so spectacular, I'm springing to see it in 3-D.